Abhyanga: Ayurvedic Self-Care


The concept of self-care is a hot topic these days-- to the point where you may even be tired of seeing it ascribed to so many things.  So, what exactly is self-care? Well first, what isn’t self-care? Buying every natural skincare item in Sephora isn’t self-care, it’s just excessive consumerism.  Too many glasses of wine after work in the name of relaxation is just overindulgence. Self-care does not require an expensive essential oil diffuser, or a pricy jade facial roller.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, self-care is not just a buzzword or an indulgence, but a necessity that is fundamental to good health.  At its most simplified, ideal form, self-care is maintaining and nourishing your body, mind, and spirit in order to live a fulfilled life.  Self-care is the undertaking of self love and acceptance that in turn, allows you to be more compassionate, accepting and understanding of others.  At its root, self-care isn’t really about “self” at all, and it certainly isn’t about the commodification of wellness gadgets, products and gimmicks.

Long before essential oil diffusers, $100+ skin creams and cardio barre classes, there was the Ayurvedic practice of Abhyanga, or self-massage.  Abhyanga is the ultimate form of self care, and will have you feeling like you went to the spa, at a fraction of the cost.

What is Abhyanga?

Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic process of self-massaging the body with oil.  Abhyanga is an ancient practice, dating back thousands of years, and is a fundamental part of the Ayurvedic daily routine.

Benefits of Abhyanga are that it can:

  • Nourish the skin
  • Stimulate internal organs

  • Increase circulation

  • Promote lymphatic drainage

  • Promote detoxification

 In addition to physical benefits, Abhyanga is helpful for relieving stress and providing a sense of grounding.

 Massage can be done with coconut or jojoba oil, or with an herb-infused, specialty Ayurvedic oil like anu tailam.  The best part is that abhyanga is really easy to do!

 For those who know their dosha, the specific oils below will be most beneficial:

  • Vata Dosha: sesame, almond or jojoba oil

  • Pitta Dosha: coconut, sunflower or jojoba oil

  • Kapha Dosha: safflower, sesame or jojoba oil

How to Practice Abhyanga:

  • Step 1 - Heat up the oil.

    • To heat the oil, first boil a pan of water and remove from heat.  Pour ¼ cup of oil into a glass container and place it in the pot of boiling water, ensuring that no water mixes with the oil.  Remove the glass jar from the pot and let it cool until it is comfortable to touch. If you are short on time, you can use oil at room temperature.

  • Step 2 - Pour some oil on your hands and rub them together.

  • Step 3 - Beginning with your arms, gently massage the oil into your skin.  Continue massaging in long circular directions, always moving towards your heart.  Massage in circular clockwise motions on the joints (elbows, knees, ankles).

  • Step 4 - Massage your stomach.  Make sure to always massage your stomach counter-clockwise, in the direction of your digestion.

  • Step 5 - Add more oil and massage your backside and legs, making your way down to your feet.  Pay particular attention to the areas where you are absorbing more oil.

It is best to practice Abhyanga in a calm, soothing environment.  You might want to have some soothing music playing, or even light some candles.

Allow the oil to stay on your skin for 5-10 minutes and then take a warm shower.  Gently pat-dry yourself with a towel to retain some of the oil that is on the skin.  

When to Avoid Abhyanga:

Abhyanga is not advised if you are pregnant or menstruating, or if you are experiencing an acute illness or medical condition.  If your skin is reacting to the oil you choose, stop the practice. We recommend testing the oil on a small patch of your skin before beginning the head-to-toe massage to avoid any unknown allergic reactions.


Christina Miller